Sunday, April 19, 2009

Savill Gardens, England

The Garden Wanderer has finally started doing some real garden wandering! This weekend, I took my first, long-awaited trip to the Mecca of gardens: (enter pompous royal music here): Britain!! For any gardener, the British Isles represent the epitome of gardening – from cottage gardens to large estate gardens, from the famous English lawn to plant hunters who are responsible for some of today’s most popular garden plants, the UK’s roots go far back in garden history. This is definitely the place for gardeners’ gardens: filled with plants, and with keen gardeners. You know that gardening is a national hobby when even the heir to the throne has published a gardening book.

Given the hundreds of gardens one could visit here, it was of course very difficult to choose one to start with. The Savill Garden, described (albeit on their own website) as “one of Britain's greatest ornamental gardens” won the prize because it’s only about 1-1.5 hours from central London (depending on your mode of transportation), and is known for its spring display. The garden is 35 acres, and part of the Royal Landscape at Windsor Castle, which includes 1000 acres of gardens and woodlands. The garden is famous for its spring woodland, rhododendrons, azaleas, spring flowering trees and many, many bulbs.

Expectations were definitely high for this garden, and with high expectations there is always the possibility of disappointment. Luckily, I was anything but disappointed. As soon as we walked through the funky new visitors’ center and crossed the small lake into the main area of the gardens, I felt like I stepped right into the quintessential British garden. It was exactly what I pictured after reading and seeing so many spectacular British gardens in books. Even the weather was appropriate - overcast with very light rain, making everything seem even more fresh and green. Everything about the garden was perfectly maintained - all shrubs and trees were impeccably shaped, the lawn was flawless and there was not a single weed in sight.

The garden has many areas, but the main ones this time of year are the spring wood and the azalea walk. The opening in the spring wood was spectacular - in mid spring, it was already lush with all manner of bulbs, hellebores and flowering trees. The number and variety of rhodondendrons was also astonishing - everything from tiny bushes to immense trees I didn't even think could be rhodos. The skunk cabbages (they give off a mildly unpleasant odour, but we didn't find it particularly powerful) were out in massive numbers and looked great along the lakes.

In addition to the spring wood, there is also a summer wood and summer borders, an autumn wood, a gravel garden and a New Zealand garden. The gravel garden, although it was very early in the year, was looking good, with beautiful euphorbias that made me a little jealous since these varieties aren't hardy in Canada. The New Zealand garden was full with amazing grasses which looked spectacular even at this time of year (grasses usually peak in the fall). All in all, the gardens really lived up to my British garden dream. Spring is a great time to visit, but after seeing all the garden areas, I think it would be a fabulous garden any time of the year.

Garden Summary
What: The Savill Garden
Where: Wick Lane, Englefield Green. [Map] If you're going by public transport, the closest train stop is Egham (about 40 minutes from Waterloo Station in Central London). Thereafter, it's either a bus ride or a bit of a hike by foot (about 45min-1 hr). If going by foot, do not follow the road signs for the garden - they take you the long way around. From Englefield Green, just take Bond Street and King's Lane to cut across straight to the gardens.
When: The gardens are known for their spring display. If you want to catch the daffodil meadow, late March to early April is the time. By mid-April when we went (April 11th), most rhodos and spring ephemerals were in bloom. I think a week later may be even more spectacular. There are areas in the garden designed to peak at all different times of the year, so a visit any time is worthwhile.

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